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What are Cycads?

Cycads have been described as living fossils.They have been around since before the dinosaurs, over 250 million years ago, and they were once the dominant plant species over the face of the Earth. They are woody plants which have roots, a stem, leaves and reproductive structures known as cones.

A plant is either male or female and the cones of each sex are usually quite different in size and shape and to a much lesser extent colour.The seeds of cycads arerelatively large and have an outer layer which is often colourful.Gymnosperms are a unique assemblage of plants and are unrelated to any other group of living plants. They are excellent horticultural subjects and are of value to groups other than collectors.

Landscapers find their primitive shapes and silhouettes appealing and their predictable dimensions extremely useful.Many species make very decorative container plants and are excellent for indoor use where there is sufficient light.Cycads are drought hardy, water wise plants ideal for Xerophytic landscapes, when established these plants can survive for extended periods without water without showing any sign of suffering from drought stress.

How do I use Cycads in Landscaping.

Cycads growth dimensions are well documented and entirely predictable, thus a cycad can be chosen with confidence to fill a particular niche.Small growing species are best sited towards the front and larger species towards the centre of a garden bed. Ideal subjects for central features in lawns or open areas,also in garden beds or for lining footpaths and roads.

Landscaping 04Cycads are extremely decorative drought hardy plants in the garden. Their foliage is both distinctive and evergreen while a female plant in cone will be a feature for several months. They blend in well in a Xerophytic garden filled with aloes and other succulents, yet are equally at home in a tropical setting with other foliage plants such as palms and tree ferns.

Cycads can be used virtually anywhere. They look fabulous in large pots either side of a doorway, do well as feature plants in a dry land garden design, they fit well into the smallest garden or balcony, and look spectacular as mass plantings in feature beds, flanking driveways, gates and doorways.

A crowded garden soon loses form and design. Rather than display a collection of cycads position each plant so that it adds decorative value to your garden. Shade loving cycads should be grouped under trees where the shade and moisture will result in more luxuriant foliage than if they are grown in the full sun. The planting holes for the cycads should receive generous amounts of compost. Regular water and fertilising is essential if they are to compete successfully with the tree roots.

Blue leaved species should be grown in full sun, preferably in rockery conditions, as these species require good drainage. The blue colour of the leaves will disappear if they are grown under moist conditions in semi-shade.

Most cycads can put up with very cold winter conditions and even some light frosts without showing any signs of damage. If any damage becomes evident it will only be superficial. The plants should be in well draining situations with good mulch cover to protect against drying out.

With so many arid-zone species to choose from, Cycads are ideal plants to include as part of new, sustainable landscapes.

Maintenance of Cycads.

Mulching - mulches are highly beneficial to cycads. They should be applied thickly as soon as possible after planting where practicable to minimise drying of the soil surface. It is advisable to have the mulch semi composted as mulch tends to cause Nitrogen Drawdown during the composting process only releasing benificial nutrients when the composting reaches an advanced stage.

General Hints - containers used for growing Cycads should not be placed directly on the ground, but should be raised on blocks etc. as the roots will venture out of the holes in the bottom of the pot and grow into the ground, this can lead to the drain holes becoming blocked, this will lead to the pot holding excess water, this will cause rotting and the loss of your valuable cycad.

Soil -A wide range of soil types from sands and gravels to rocky gardens and clay loams can be suitable. Free Drainage is essential. NoCycad will tolerate water logged soils for any length of time.

Watering - sufficient water should be applied to thoroughly soak the root zone of the plants. When established, cycad plants survive on very little water, their waterwise drought hardiness is a very attractive feature as water for gardens becomes more scarce.

Fertilisers - inorganic fertilisers are water soluble therefore the nutrients quickly become available to the plants. Fertilisers are best applied during the warm months when the plants are in active growth. Organic fertilisers are also advisable to use as they build up the microbes in the soil or media to maintain thelong term health of your cycads as well as providing a balanced and long term source of naturally occurring nutrients.

Pruning - Cycads require some trimming of untidy, damaged, protruding or dead leaves but in general very little pruning is required of these plants.

Landscaping 05

Horticultural Appeal

Cycads along with palms, tree ferns and many other foliage plants are very popular subjects for cultivation. Although other groups of plants attract an enthusiastic following, the attention paid to cycads is well out of proportion to the numbers of species found in the world.

Cycads are very popular plants with the cycad collector, cycad enthusiasts will go to extraordinary lengths to obtain new plants. Rare species and specimen plants are expensive and hence large collections represent a considerable outlay in time and money. A wide range of species are propagated by specialist nurserymen and new species and variants are constantly being introduced into cultivation.

Cycads are excellent horticultural subjects and are of value to groups other than collectors. Landscapers find their drought hardiness, primitive shapes and silhouettes appealing and their predictable dimensions extremely useful. Many species make very decorative container plants and are excellent for indoor use where there is sufficient light.As a bonsai subject, cycads are only rivaledby their gymnosperm relatives.


Contrary to popular opinion, Xeriscape is NOT about creating landscapes that can survive on little or no water. (By the way Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zera-scape’, not ‘zero-scape.’ A zero-scape is what happens to those that ignore their landscape.) Xeriscape is about designing landscapes that group plants according to their water and light needs. Plants that have high water requirements are grouped together. Moderately drought tolerant plants are grouped together and highly drought tolerant plants are grouped together. This concept allows for efficient irrigation of the entire landscape. If you think about this concept, you will soon realize that ALL PLANTS are Xeriscape plants. Principles of Xeriscape include proper planning and design, limiting turf to practical areas, use of soil amendments and mulches, an efficient irrigation system, and proper maintenance. See the Xeriscape site at:

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Cycad International | 61 Morris Road, Katherine, Northern Territory, 0850, Australia
Managing Directors : Josef & Karen Perner
Phone: +61 4 18 898 802 | Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.